The Young & the Old(er)

It has taken me all day to write this.  I think part of that is due to frustration, part is because I wanted to think before I spoke, and part because I didn’t want to sound like a broken record.  But maybe that’s what is needed.

Yesterday, a friend and colleague of mine ran for a national committee seat within our state party.  She had good support, both from young members of the party and older members of the party.  I was unable to be present, but everything I’ve heard is that her speech was excellent.  She understands the diversity of our party and our country, and how we most often represent the people who don’t get represented often enough.  She believed her election to the position would provide a new perspective and a distinct level of diversity in the national committee members.  She is passionate about young people being the future of the party, and cares with every part of her about the future of this country.  She is, to me and to many, the epitome of the future of Democratic politics.

And she lost.

What I find most frustrating about this is that I so often get asked why young people don’t get involved or stay involved, and this is a perfect example of why.  When young people, who have worked very hard and held positions in the party for several years, are disenfranchised due to their age, no wonder they don’t want to stick around.  I hear all the time “we want young people here,” but when given the opportunity to elect a person who is female and under the age of 35, the party failed to do so.  It’s confusing, and a little disheartening.

There are some wonderfully supportive people in the party.  There are people who support  me and my colleagues on a regular basis, which I greatly appreciate.  And I hope, if they’re reading this, that they know I’m appreciative of them.  I’ve been challenged positively and supported by a great number of people in our local party.

But I’ve also had grudges held against me.  I’ve had people tell me I’m ruining the party because I want us to make changes that will help move the party forward (but will make things look a little different).  I’ve been bullied and have watched my friends and colleagues be bullied because we disagree or there is a misunderstanding.  It’s not everyone, or all of the time, but it’s happened enough that I can no longer consider it an anomaly.  And I don’t understand it.

Every young party member I know works extremely hard, both in their professional life and their personal or political life.  Every young party member I know pushes through all the stereotypes laid on us as “millennials” (don’t even get me started on that word), and works to make the world better.  Not just for us, but for people who come after us.  And for the people who came before us, who might retire soon.  We have dreams for this world, just like everyone before us has had.

Most of us work hard because we like to, and because our parents raised us to work hard.  My generation was raised by two distinctly different types of parents – the tale end of the Baby Boomers, and a significant chunk of Generation X.  Being raised by parents from such different generations can make us different, but one of our strongest similarities is our work ethic.  And we want to know that, one day (even one day soon), that hard work will pay off.  But right now what we often see is a deep disinterest in bringing young people in to the fold.  And I can’t figure out where it comes from.

I’m thankful for the people who don’t feel that way.  Who believe and understand that young people are the future of the party.  I just wish we could find a way for more people to understand that.  My friend and colleague should have been elected yesterday.  Her age is not a detriment, it’s an asset, and should be treated as such.

I’ve watched too many organizations implode because they believe that you’ve only paid your dues if you’re over a certain age, and then people who are under that age don’t stick around. I don’t want that to happen to our party.  My friends and colleagues and I were taught to respect people who have been around longer than us, and we do, but that starts to disappear when we aren’t treated with the same respect.  I hope that continues to change.  I hope we can be a better party, together.

On Youth

My friend and fellow community member/volunteer Kerry Jeffrey wrote this piece, originally posted on Facebook and reprinted with permission. He included this note: This was inspired by all of my friends, but in particular Audrey, Seamus, and Melissa.

In June, I attended a fundraiser for the regional Democratic party. The gathering was resplendent with members of local government whom about I’d only read or heard. Chief among these attendees was Representative Denny Heck, who provided, in addition to general star power, wisdom and encouragement in the form of a lengthy speech meant to rouse the base, most of whom were under one roof and, with an election year around the corner, in need of rousing.

I was, however, at work; as a member of the Young Democrats of Clark County, I and my peers were tasked with parting donors from their money in the form of a game called “Heads or Tails.” We would ask folks to buy a $20 stake in a game of chance that could yield them a significant cash prize, with a portion of the funds raised to be donated to our organization. It was win-win: we helped the Dems, and ourselves, raise money.

As I and my peers scuttled back and across the convention hall, I heard Representative Heck say this: “Currently, fifty percent of young people describe themselves as being politically undecided.” This statement had the distinction of at once being believable and, if only anecdotally, false in the moment that it was uttered. Because as I looked around the room, I saw my Young Dems: my colleagues, my friends, who represented the majority of young folks I knew. They were devoting their free time (a Saturday, no less), to raising money not for themselves or their personal ambitions, but for something bigger than themselves. And yet, I could see the truth in Heck’s claim.

I’ve thought of Representative Heck’s words often since. I thought about them last weekend, as I and my fellow YD’s unloaded, organized, and reloaded pound after pound of food for the Clark County Food Bank in pouring rain. I thought about those words in August, as I and my colleagues waved signs for Eric LaBrant and Mike Pond in the midst of a heatwave. And I thought of those words in late June, as I and my organization exercised our political capital in endorsing Marc Boldt: a registered Republican, running as an independent in the race for Clark County Council Chair.

Leaving the fallout of this decision to what is documented in our local newspaper, the fact was this: some folks were unhappy. The manner of and degree to which this unhappiness was expressed and upon acted is a matter of private correspondence and, depending on who you ask, resolved. Regardless, there is a certain rage that has since hung over me: a rage that followed me as I waved signs for LaBrant and Pond in the heat, and loaded boxes of food in the rain. And the source of my ire is this: in the heat and in the rain, I found only us Young Dems. Of those who had expressed displeasure in the exercise by us of our political capital, I saw no one.

Representative Heck’s statement proposes a number of questions, and the foremost is this: why is it that so many young people are politically undecided? Assuredly, there are many answers. I will focus on one.

In many ways, youth today face a Schrödinger’s proposition: we are both expected to make the world, and accept how it is made. To make this world, we’re told that we need to be educated, innovative, and enthusiastic. In accepting how the world is made, we must accept that somehow no level of education is a substitute for experience (and that we’re often subordinate to people who are both less educated and less experienced), that we’re preceded by generations of people who are technophobic (and celebrate their ignorance of new trends), and our enthusiasm must converted into a single resource that is otherwise in short supply: the energy to perform extensive and menial tasks for little rewards.

This is a microcosm of the Kafkaesque nightmare that is being a millennial (a word which, incidentally, I find so aggravating that it turns my blood to acid). We must be better poised to run the world than any generation, in the face of gatekeepers who would use our talents as a means to avoid doing the work themselves. We must simultaneously do the work and possess no political capital generated from the work we do.

When I think of Representative Heck’s words, I also think of something that Eric LaBrant, Clark County’s Port Commissioner Elect, told the Young Democrats. In November, after working on his campaign (and many others), LaBrant said this: “Victory belongs to those who simply show up. And time and again, you’ve shown up.”

And show up we did: to a dinner in June, where we were originally not offered a table or plate of the same food upon which the Democratic donors feasted (though, through happenstance, we secured these things later on), while Denny Heck wondered aloud why young people felt disenfranchised.

Young people are made to feel as though they are a resource to be used, when they are resource unto themselves. There is nothing preventing us as from organizing, or raising funds, or lobbying. This is something a gatekeeper will tell you, and to which they will offer you access for the modest fee of your intelligence and time: all while invoking Schrödinger, as they demonstrate that these things simultaneously are and are not valuable. To them, you should be inventing the next Amazon or Instagram or Uber, while voting how they say you should vote.

This is what drives young people out of politics. To be truly idealistic is to reject the idea that doing good work now means you don’t need to do good work later. For us, politics is a labor of love. It is about the work, not the promise of easy living that hard work might bring. I don’t wave signs in the heat or load boxes of food in the pouring rain because I’m “paying my dues.” I’m not traipsing across the convention hall of the Vancouver Hilton in my precious free time so that I can parlay the experience into a role where I no longer get my hands dirty. I do these things because in order to be an agent of my ideals, I must do them.

This does not demonstrate an oft-referenced “youthful entitlement.” By working hard and living up to my potential, I have earned the right to spend my political capital as I see fit. I hope that through my actions, I can model this basic right for others who have been pushed out of politics. This does not mean that we are ungrateful for opportunity: it means that opportunity should not be used as a bargaining chip that exploits our potential.

So to the young and disaffected, I say this: victory belongs to those who show up. I’m here, and you are welcome to join me.

Graduating Debt Free

This photo pops up on my Facebook feed every once in a while, usually after being liked or shared by someone who politically leans right or is over the age of 60 (just being real). I’ve not ever addressed it, but I’d like to say something about this photo.

a tip for the youngsters

First of all, congratulations to this student. To graduate from college is success in itself, but to graduate debt free is also something to celebrate. It’s impressive.  But I would like to address some of the statements made in this image.

I’d like to know where this student lives. As someone with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree making double the minimum wage, I am barely able to cover all of my living expenses. The apartments in Vancouver where someone making minimum wage working 30+ hours a week (notice the student does not say 40+) are full – and even those people are struggling. Some cities have better housing costs, but not all of them. Not all students could work 30 hours a week and pay for their living expenses. It’s not realistic.

I think it’s great that this student started saving for school at 17. However, there are a lot of students who have been working since they were able to do so, whose money went to help their family and make sure there was food on the table. Those students weren’t able to save money for college, but were still working just as hard as the student in the photo.

Receiving scholarships is great, but not receiving a scholarship should not prevent someone from attending college. Having a 3.8 GPA is incredible, but a GPA is not always representative of what you learn while attending college. Not having a credit card is good for your bank account, but bad for your credit. Does this student even have credit? Finally, the implication that someone who has had to take out loans does not work as hard as this student is, frankly, disrespectful.

I say all of this because the more this pops up on my Facebook feed, the more upset I get about it. Many people are using this as the standard for which all college students should be held. And it isn’t realistic. Not all students have the privilege of working to save money for college when they’re 17. Not all students receive scholarships, which should never prevent someone from furthering their education. Not everyone lives in a city where they can work 30 hours a week for minimum wage and make ends meet (in fact, most people don’t anymore).

So before you start holding the students in your lives to unrealistic standards, consider where they are coming from. Consider how they were raised and what they might have been able to do work and school wise before they were 18. Consider what they might be able to do now.

This students implication that you get to choose whether or not you are part of the 99% is false. If you aren’t making a certain amount of money or offered a certain level of privilege, you are part of the 99%. End of story. Debt is also not a bad decision. Sometimes it’s the only way to further your education, and the fact that education is so expensive is not the fault of someone trying to attend college, though figuring out how to pay for it is their responsibility.

I guess what I’m asking is that you take this with a grain of salt. I don’t know a single student who graduated from high school excited to take on debt. It’s just a fact of life right now, and pretending otherwise is a disservice to people trying to further their education.

What’s Your Political Story?

Recently, I went to an event that challenged me to think outside of my box and to listen to the viewpoints of others.  We watched a film called Bring It to The Table, and afterwards when we had conversations about seeing the perspectives of those who are politically different, it brought about an idea.

In honor of Bring It to The Table, this blog will post an interview or written piece from someone discussing their political views, hopefully once a week.  The point of this is not to highlight one political belief over the other – I want anyone who has strong (or not so strong) political beliefs to have a space to share their perspective.  I want a space where people can feel safe and can share their views without fear of being attacked.

Below you’ll find the form to fill out to start the process if you’re interested in sharing your political views/political story.  Once you fill out the form, I’ll be in contact (either by phone or email) to ask some questions or talk with you about writing a piece for the blog.  Once people start contributing, we’ll talk more about comment guidelines and how often you’ll hear someone else’s story on this blog.

I hope you consider contributing your story.  It’s time we all take a moment to really listen to one another.

On Sincerity vs. Naivete

For the last 9 months, I’ve been involved in a local political party and its “young person” wing.  It has been a bit of a crazy, whirlwind experience, and I’ve met a lot of really amazing people and learned a lot about politics and about myself.  This post is about some of my experiences there.

Politics is a hard game.  It’s challenging and a little fussy, but eye-opening and full of passion.  There’s no easy way to participate in politics – it either sucks you in or it doesn’t, at least for me.  And it’s full of the most different people you’ll ever meet – those who identify as the same party as you but see something from a completely different perspective.  It teaches you about new ideas, and it certainly teaches you patience (though no one ever said we learned that one well).

The first time I ever worked for a political campaign was in 2010, and I ran into a lot of different people.  The thing I remember most is that there were people who appreciated that a 22-year-old was involved in politics, and people who thought that my age made me too naive to be successful.

I’m 27 now.  This has not changed.

Naivete is often associated with a lack of experience.  And yes, when you’re walking in to something where you don’t have the same experience as someone older (and presumed wiser) than you, then there are going to be some things you don’t know.  A lack of experience does not mean a person is naive, though, and I’m tired of watching my friends and colleagues who are under the age of 40 be presumed naive because they’re new to a system.

Last night, a friend reminded me that often sincerity is perceived as naivete.  When a person is sincere, they’re honest and they express how they truly feel about something – and it can catch people off guard.  I’ve watched it catch people off guard just in the last 9 months.  When a group of 20-somethings walks in to the room with sincerity, they can often be assumed to be “green.”

“They don’t really know what they’re doing.  They’re just kids.”

I think the thing that has frustrated me the most is not the idea that those of us new to politics are “naive” or “kids,” it’s the fact that this idea is assumed.  There is no basis for this idea, except our age and what people assume our resumes look like.

The length of a persons resume does  not make them better for a position or for political involvement than someone else.  The amount of time a person has been on earth does not make them better or worse than someone else.  But if you treat someone poorly based on their age or their perceived resume, what kind of person does that make you?

People often ask, “How do we get more young people involved?”  It’s a question I actually hate answering, because the answer is so simple.

You treat them well.

If a person comes in to get involved, don’t automatically treat them as if they’re sitting at the “kids table.”  Ask for their perspective, and then listen to it.  Treat them like it matters that they’re there.  I’ve watched people walk away from political involvement because they aren’t valued or are treated as if their sincerity makes them too naive to be successful.

My opinion is often valued, and I’m grateful for that.  But I’ve watched the people around me be treated as if they don’t matter, or at least as if their opinion doesn’t matter, and I’m no longer interested in seeing it happen.  Until someone proves that they’re not experienced enough to do something, maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Take a minute today, and think about the people around you.  Are the people younger than you really naive, or are they just sincere and it’s something you haven’t seen before?  Regardless of your answer, think of one thing they can bring to the table that you can’t, and then ask them for it.  Show them they’re valued.  The more “young people” we value, the better our country becomes.  For how can we grow without people to whom we can pass on our legacies?

the-secret-of-success-is-sincerity-quote-1

To the Young Voters of Clark County

This is an all-call to the young voters of Clark County.

It’s 2015.  It is considered an “off-year” for many people when it comes to politics and voting, but it’s not.  These “off-years” are often when local politicians are elected, like City and County councilors, or school board members, or port or fire commissioners.  This is when it’s the most important for you to be invested in what is happening.

This year, in Clark County, there are several important races, including city council races in several of the cities in Clark County, two open county council seats, and an open seat on the Port of Vancouver.  Every single one of these races is huge for both the present and the future of Clark County.

The 18-35 age range (that’s you, young Clark County voters) is often a hard one to get to vote.  This age range includes people who are new to voting, people who are focusing on college (and thus, often, not voting), and people who are starting families and jobs.  In my experience, many of these people don’t understand the importance of voting until they’re older, when they see the repercussions of having not voted for years.

There are a lot of people that believe that money dictates who is elected, and they’re not wrong.  There are people elected in Clark County who might not have been elected if they weren’t able to push a bunch of money at their campaign.  The pessimist in me believes this will never change.

The optimist in me, however, knows that it can.  We’ve watched people elect underdogs and change voting rights and give people access to the things that others didn’t think they deserved because of their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.  We can change the way this world is headed, but we’re not doing it.

So here’s my challenge to you: start now.  Start in 2015.

In Clark County, we have two county council positions open that are brand new.  These positions need to be filled by people who have the best interests of this county at heart, both now and in the future.  The Port of Vancouver Commission has an open seat, and it’s a very contentious race this year.  The current Port Commission approved oil trains and an oil terminal in Vancouver.  It puts us in danger, but even more so, it’s not economically sound.  Our city and county need to grow, and the Port of Vancouver is one of our main hubs for jobs.  An oil terminal may offer some, but not for a long enough time to make Vancouver the strong city it needs to be.

These are just some of the races happening in Clark County this year, and even just those positions can change the makeup of this county.  Pay attention this year.  Use your voice.  If you can, use your money.  This isn’t an “off-year,” it’s an important year.  Let’s make it count.

The Political Present

As a United States citizen under the age of 36, I am unhappy with the state of affairs in this country.  I wish things were different, and I know from experience that there are ways things can be different.  I’ve gotten involved in politics in my city, county, and state, and I’ve watched things begin to change.

We have so much further to go.

This blog is a place where I’ll talk about not only the future of this country, but the present – what will impact the “youth” of the United States now, and how we can change things for our current lives and for the future.

As a Washington state resident, I may focus heavily on Washington politics, as well as Vancouver and Clark County politics, since that’s where I live.

This is a place for me (and sometimes my colleagues) to say the things that have been on our minds for a long time.  It is a place where we can finally talk about what is happening in our city, county, and state.  And it is a place where we can continue to work towards change.